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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Updated: January 7, 5:10 PM ET
Blyleven gaining ground on Hall of Fame

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

Bert Blyleven
Bert Blyleven got 74.2 percent of the vote for this year's Hall of Fame. He needed 75 percent to get in.
Forty years after throwing his first major league curveball, 18 years after winning his final big league game and 13 years after going on the Hall of Fame ballot for the initial time, Bert Blyleven finally received the call from Cooperstown on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the call he wanted.

"Brad Horn called me,'' Blyleven said, referring to the Hall's senior director for communications. "And he said, 'This is Brad Horn from the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to tell you that you fell five votes short.'"

Congratulations! You're not a winner!

"I thought it was one of the Twins fantasy campers playing a joke,'' Blyleven said, adding this was the first time the Hall has called him. "But I'm very happy for Andre Dawson and his family. I was surprised that Roberto Alomar was not elected, but maybe he and I can go in together next year.

"Next year might be perfect. Next year is 2011 and my last name ends with 'leven' and Chris Berman used to call me Bert (Be Home) Blyleven. … You have to look for the positives.''

Blyleven finished with 74.2 percent of the vote, five votes shy of the 75 percent needed for election. On the one hand, that's frustratingly close. Five stinking votes! On the other hand, everyone who got that close wound up reaching Cooperstown, and Blyleven still has two more years on the ballot.

"I would be lying to say I wasn't disappointed but I am happy in the jump in percentage,'' said Blyleven, who received 62.7 percent of the vote last year. "I'm disappointed by finishing five short and I'm disappointed some writers sent in blank ballots -- I just don't understand that. But I'm looking forward to next year.''

The pitcher received just 18 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot in 1997 and only 14 his second year. The voting results used to anger him. Didn't writers realize how hard it was to win a game in the majors, let alone 287? Didn't they appreciate how many innings and strikeouts and shutouts he had?

"I used to vent,'' Blyleven said. "Just before my dad died, in 2003 when his health was really bad, I wanted him with me at Cooperstown. He's the one who left Holland, along with my mom, with 20 bucks in their pockets and dreams for a better life. My mom is 82 and kicking. That's the thing. You would like the ones who helped you get there to be there with you.''

Thanks in large part to writers and analysts advocating for him on the Internet, Blyleven's support has grown steadily since 2003, and for the first time, he went into this year's vote feeling there was a good chance he would be elected.

"This has been the most exciting one for me and the family as far as watching it,'' he said. "I haven't talked on the phone this much in years. I feel like a high school girl being called on a date.''

Blyleven said he hoped for election but his main goal was to get well into the 70s and he did that.

"Hopefully, this is the first day of celebration going into the next year's voting,'' he said. "The excitement was there this morning and it felt good, but now it's back to normal. Life goes on. The dog still poops on the lawn.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.